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January 31, 2019

Three of John Paul Reyes’ friends tried to pull him into the car, but they couldn’t hold him back. Despite being outnumbered and surrounded in the wrong part of town, John Paul started throwing punches at anyone within reach. “We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and someone busted a beer bottle over my cousin’s car,” he says. “I thought I was invincible.” Someone pulled out a gun and started shooting at John Paul and his friends, but rather than run, he turned and faced the shooter. Finally, his friends pulled him into the car and got away before anyone was shot.

John Paul didn’t plan on reaching age 21 so he lived his life accordingly. “I was either going to die or go to prison for the rest of my life,” he says. He oversaw a network of drug dealers that he refers to as “hell’s armies,” and his life revolved around drugs, alcohol, and violence. His mother saw this and did the only thing she knew to do—she got him to church. Sometimes she had to bribe him, but she got him in the door. At one service, while John Paul was still high and had a car trunk full of drugs in the church parking lot, he received a prophetic word from the preacher. “He told me I was going to be changing a lot of hearts, and I was going to be advancing God’s kingdom,” he says. “Something about it rang true in me.” 

Still, he continued on with his lifestyle. “I was trying to change but I couldn’t.” He and his girlfriend, Kelly, had been dating for years, and they had a child together. He wanted to marry her but walking away from the drug mentality and lifestyle isn’t easy. “When you’re in it, you’re in it,” he says. But one day, he was arrested and convicted of his second felony offense and put in jail for six months, and it changed his life. He spent every day reading the Bible, and that time away from the drug scene gave him enough separation to get a fresh start once he was released. He and Kelly got married and started attending Gateway.

John Paul attended Men’s Summit in 2012 during which Pastor Tom Lane spoke about family and what it meant to be a Lane. John Paul thought back to his own childhood. “I never heard or experienced anyone leading a family this way,” he says. “I had a dad who did his best to raise me, and I want to honor him for that, but he could only do what he knew to do.” Seeing this new way to lead a family was eye opening to him. “I knew this was the kind of environment my life needed,” he says.

What happened next set his life in a new direction in an unexpected way. “I saw the movie Courageous, and something lit up in me to say that we men need each other to get where we want to go—to hold each other accountable—like iron sharpening iron,” he says. “I realized I had a calling to lead men, and watching the movie activated that calling.”

However, there were many hurdles in front of him.

John Paul’s marriage with Kelly was struggling. There had been problems for years, even since he had turned his life around. He felt his marriage slipping away and even woke up from nightmares feeling like his wedding ring was being pulled from his hand. It seemed that the harder he worked to keep his marriage on track, the more he lost control of it.

Soon he and Kelly were separated, and she filed for divorce and moved out. He thought his marriage was over. By the time the next Men’s Summit came around, John Paul had given up hope altogether. “I was done, and I was broken,” he says. “I was tired of the same old fight and putting my kids through the heartache.” During the conference, one of the speakers started talking about men fighting for their marriages.

Earlier that week he had texted a link of a video of one of Pastor Robert’s messages to his wife and asked her if she would watch it. She hadn’t even responded to that message. As he sat in the service, distraught over his marriage and struggling with the thought of fighting for it, he threw one last Hail Mary pass in the form of a prayer. He pulled out his phone and looked at a picture of his family. “I said, ‘Lord, I will, but even if I fight for my family, she won’t,’” he says. At that moment, a text message alert appeared on his phone. “I will,” it said. It was his wife responding to his request to watch the video, but it was also God responding to him. “My wife had no idea I was at Men’s Summit or what I was doing,” he says. “But in that moment, God began to do a work in both of our hearts and restore our marriage.” There was still an uphill battle, but he realized that it was sparked by a moment of obedience to God asking him if he was willing to fight for his marriage. “It was not an immediate change, but everything shifted that day—and it started with prayer,” he says. “I simply had to surrender trying to change my wife and get her to think like I think and believe like I believe. I had to love her the way God loved me.”

Eventually, he and Kelly joined a Gateway Group for married couples. Their relationship was improving, and the other couples began reminding John Paul of his calling. “The men in that group told me I was called to lead,” he says.

A few months went by and he started a small Bible study in his house. He called it Men of Courage and it quickly outgrew his living room. At Men’s Summit in 2015, he brought a large group of men with him and organized a team for the cook-off that took place in the church parking lot.

That same group is now bigger and stronger than ever. Now there are hundreds of men involved, and it’s not just a Bible study anymore. It’s a place where men from all backgrounds can connect with and learn from each other. It also gives men an opportunity to help their communities. After Hurricane Harvey, volunteers from Men of Courage went down to Beaumont, Texas, with two trailers full of water bottles, food, and supplies, and they served 1,000 meals. Another time, they provided a local Dallas-Fort Worth family with a van.

All this was organized by a man who oversaw a network of drug dealers only a few years earlier. Now he oversees a group of men who are truly making a difference in the world by pursuing the kingdom of God. “Seeing guys go from lukewarm to all in, engaging with God, hearing the Holy Spirit, and praying over their families is what I’m all about,” he says. “We’re going to lock arms and go after God.”